A political form of reefer madness

A political form of reefer madness

April 9, 2012

By Steven Greenhut

SACRAMENTO — Some Oakland residents are furious that on the same day a gunman murdered seven people this week at the private Oikos University in the city, SWAT teams raided a different educational institution less than a mile away, where only peaceful activities were being conducted.

Federal agents also showed up at the home of Richard Lee, owner of this second private school, Oaksterdam University, and the sponsor of a nearly successful 2010 California ballot measure denounced by the feds during the initiative campaign.

This is something that should have been seized upon by the Republican presidential candidates. It had all the elements found in the common GOP narrative about President Barack Obama. How many times have we heard that Obama is obliterating states’ rights, shredding the Constitution, abusing his authority to punish political enemies, backing away from campaign promises and misallocating federal resources?

And yet the Oaksterdam raid April 2 incited virtually no response from GOP activists and candidates. Why? Oaksterdam teaches students the cannabis trade — growing marijuana to serve California’s medical pot industry, which voters authorized and which had been flourishing until crackdowns by the Obama administration contributed to driving many dispensaries out of business. Lee’s 2010 initiative, Proposition 19, would have legalized marijuana in California.

Republicans won’t stand up for the right of California to enforce a set of laws that the GOP candidates find offensive, regardless of their fealty to states’ rights when it comes to the national health care law and other issues.

“The raid demonstrated the ongoing tension between the federal government and states/municipalities willing to permit some marijuana use,” reported the International Business Times. “Medical marijuana is legal in California, and Oakland offered a glimpse of what broader legalization might look like by passing laws to tax and regulate dispensaries. But the federal Controlled Substances Act holds that cannabis is a dangerous drug with no medical value, ranking it alongside substances like heroin and mescaline.”

Broken vows

Despite his campaign vows to make marijuana enforcement a low priority, the president has stepped up raids on these clinics and has been remarkably successful — if one considers tormenting sick people, shutting down tax-paying businesses, confiscating private property and threatening to jail people a success. In the Sacramento area, where I live, these clinics were common. I would see small pharmacies, where customers would go to purchase their “medicine,” and the world went on without incident.

Oakland officials encouraged the development of the cannabis industry, viewing it as a tax-generating enterprise that provided extra money for public services including policing. I’ve driven by these shops in Oakland and they are far less problematic than the liquor stores that dot that crime-plagued city.

Marijuana foes have argued, despite strong evidence to the contrary, that medical marijuana is a sham — that cannabis has no medical properties, and that the state’s law is a fancy “work around” federal drug laws. That’s a position born of ignorance.

I recall a debate on the Orange County Board of Supervisors a few years ago. That board approved the issuance of medical-marijuana cards after one supervisor explained how the drug helped a cancer-stricken relative.

We shouldn’t have to rely on personal experience to make us do the right thing. Freedom-loving people should be willing to let other people and their doctors make these decisions. I don’t pry into the types of sleeping pills a doctor might prescribe for my neighbors. Yet there’s something about marijuana that drives people crazy — a form of reefer madness that afflicts drug warriors rather than pot smokers.


No doubt, it’s easy to get a medical-marijuana physician recommendations in California.

Many people with such documents suffer nothing worse than anxiety. One answer, then, would be more stringent medical requirements for medical pot, not to send paramilitary officials into peaceful businesses. The best answer would be to eliminate the sham altogether by legalizing marijuana, which would provide a tax windfall and take a bite out of the Mexican drug cartel profits. It’s not as if pot smokers can’t easily buy marijuana on the black market.

Conservatives from an earlier era — i.e., William F. Buckley Jr. and Milton Friedman — championed drug legalization. They understood that the drug war undermined freedom and civil liberties.

Unlike today’s religious right moralists and statists, these conservatives understood that government crackdowns do not make problems go away. Legalization is the best way to control something. As the cliché goes, one doesn’t see Budweiser dealers shooting each other in the streets over territorial disputes.

Rick Santorum, who admits to smoking marijuana in college, trashed former presidential contender Rick Perry after Perry said that marijuana is a states-rights issue. It’s hard to believe that society would have been better served by having Santorum spend a decade in jail for drugs rather than moving on to the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania. (Given some of his votes, I might stand corrected!) Mitt Romney rejects liberalized marijuana laws and walked away from a medical marijuana patient who questioned him about it. (See YouTube below.)

Obama pretends to be a civil libertarian, but has authorized the crackdown.

These people are not serious or consistent. Whenever I bring up this constitutional matter, I’m barraged by “Cheech and Chong”-like reefer jokes, as if that’s a substitute for an argument.

Despite their rhetoric, Republicans believe in the freedom of Americans to live any way they choose to — as long as that way conforms to the preferences of Republicans. They believe in states’ rights as long as the states do things approved by the federal government, which is the same thing that Democrats believe in, except that the Democrats use different language to justify their authoritarian impulses.

In other words, don’t expect the Oaksterdam outrage – or serious discussions of freedom and states’ rights — to become a focal point of the presidential race.

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